‘State of Surveillance’ with Edward Snowden and Shane Smith (VICE on HBO: Season 4, Episode 13)

Edward -You might have bought the phone but whoever hacked it they are the one who owns it. Any device that is on here you can operate independently. Shane – So it is true, you can get into the phone and turn the camera on? E – Ya, absolutely. S – Is there a way you can tell if your phone has been hacked? E – Perhaps the most terrifying thing is if your phone had been hacked you would never know. S – This week on VICE: The inside story of America's surveillance program. E – I'm going to be detaching the camera. The devices that you paid for, watch you, on our behalf. S – It seems like technology allows, almost anyone to spy, on almost anyone. E – Even if you trust the government today…

What happens when it changes? When eventually we get an individual who says… "You know what? Let's flip that switch." S – First of all I'd like to say thank you for meeting us today here at the storied hotel Metropol in Moscow. I say storied because for the longest time it was the designated hotel where foreigners were allowed to stay. And it was rumoured that every room was bugged. E – *Laughs* I would definitely presume that in any world capital when you're in a major business hotel… If the hotel rooms aren't pre-wired for surveillance they can be wired almost immediately. S – For the last 3 years, a controversy has raged about the US governments surveillance of its own people. The terrorist attack last December in San Bernardino, CA brought this debate to a tipping point. Reporter – 14 people are dead and 21 people have been injured after a married couple opened fire at the Inland Regional centre in San Bernardino. Reporter #2 – A judge is ordering apple to help the FBI break into a cellphone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

Reporter #3 – Apple is saying "Look this is something that no court can order us to do. Tim Cook – What is at stake here is… Can the government compel Apple to write software that would make hundreds of millions of customers vulnerable around the world? Obama – If it is possible to make an impenetrable device. How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot? S – But according to the most famous whistleblower in the world, the government already had this capability. S – As it turns out, Snowden, was proved right. Because the FBI was able to crack the iPhone, without Apples help. Now Edward Snowden remains a polarizing figure in America. Politics. Because on one side he's considered a hero on the level of Woodward and Bernstein who broke the Watergate scandal. But on the other, he is considered a traitor who jeapardized American intelligence and security around the world Senator Burr – A Traitor! A traitor to the United States. Senator Nelson – These records were spread about publicly by Edward Snowden.

Intentionally. Recklessly. And I might say illegally. S – So we went to Moscow to speak to this controversial figure about the state of surveillance in America today. So NSA, CIA, FBI… Can they get into my phone? E – Yes. S – Can they get into my laptop? E – Absolutely. S – iPad…? E – Anything. As long as they can dedicate people, money and time to the target… they can get it. S – And what kind of information can they get from my phone for example? E – Uh, everything in your contacts list. Every SMS messenger that you use. Every place that has ever been where the phone is physically located. Even if you've got GPS disabled because they can see which wireless access points are near you. Every part of a private life, today, is found on someones phone. We used to say a mans home is his castle. Today, a mans phone is his castle. S – My question to you is why don't more people care? Because we've gone from cold war, pre-9/11 To effectively a police state that is watching your every move and everyone went "meh". Why? E – Part of it is the fact it happened invisibly.

If a politician had said we want to watch everybody in the Country. People would have been up in arms about it. In the wake of September 11th the Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, and his personal lawyer David Addington conspired with a number of top level officials In the NSA and other agencies to change not only what they considered to be the legal restraints but actually the culture of surveillance in the intelligence community. They moved from the exceptional surveillance to the surveillance of everyone. Technology has changed, instead of sending people to follow you; we use the devices that you pay for. The services and the systems that surround you invisibly every day to watch you, on our behalf. Metadata, is the fact that a communication occurred. S – So I called you E – You called me, when you called me, where you called me from.

This information is the same thing that's produced when a private investigator follows you around all day. They can't sit close enough to you in every cafe to hear every word you're saying. But they can be close enough to know when you left your house, what the license plate of the car you're driving with, where you went, who you sat with. How long you were there, when you left, where you went after that. That's metadata. S – Now all of this metadata it turns out is actually remarkably easy to get at. In fact you don't even have to hack the phone at all. All you need is technology that is readily available. Called an IMSI catcher that can intercept your phones metadata remotely. E – Every phone has what's called an IMSI. S – Uh huh. E – Which is actually for the SIM card. That's your subscriber information. What your name is; What your phone number is. All of our devices, as they travel throughout the day are constantly broadcasting in sort of this radio orchestra. IMSI catchers masquerade as the legitimate cellphone tower.

So when you're saying "Hey – cell phone tower" "Can you hear me?" – Instead a man in the middle, somebody with an IMSI catcher in the trunk of their car. In a briefcase in their office Has it send a louder signal back to you, than the cell phone tower, then say "I'm the cell phone tower". S – Now this sounds pretty complex. How hard is it to make or buy an IMSI catcher? E – It's incredibly easy. You buy these things off the shelf. Every police department in the United States seems to be buying these things nowadays. S – Really? Now the use of IMSI catchers by police recently caused international headlines when a newspaper in Norway attempted to track the amount of IMSI catchers in Oslo. And actually found so many that they questioned if their tracker was working properly. After hiring a cyber security firm they discovered not only were they indeed correct but that these devices were actually being used to spy on their own government facilities. Andreas – 5 places in Oslo the measurement was so serious that they could say with high probability that there was IMSI catchers.

The most clear signs was in the area of the Prime Ministers office and the Ministry of Defense. We also got alerts up in the Embassies area. And in front of the Parliament. S – And while the police initially denied using IMSI catchers extensively; In the face of overwhelming evidence they were eventually forced to admit it. A – The police stated that "We are using IMSI catchers at minimum once a week." That was the first time, ever, that the police had gone out and stated how often they were using these kinds of equipment. In all the areas that we detected signals, thousands of people are flowing by every day. So that's, I think that is some of the problem with these kinds of technology because you are looking for one number but you are, in the same phase, you are collecting hundreds of numbers. S – Now this technology is being used by police forces all over the world. In fact in New York City alone IMSI catchers have been used more than a thousand times, by police, since 2008 And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

As they are now being used all around us… all the time E – There is a joint CIA/NSA program called appropriately enough, "Shenanigans". Shenanigans was a project to mount on airplanes an IMSI catcher and fly it around the city. They can tell when you've travelled, they can tell when you move and this all happens without warrants. S – Right. E – Shenanigans was happening in Yemen. That is where it was being tested and you go "Well look this is being used to aim missiles at terrorists." I'm okay with that. But these programs have a disturbing frequency, a tendency… to move from war front to home front. S – Right. E – And within six months of Shenanigans being reported, the Wall Street Journal reported, that the same technology was now being used domestically inside the United States. The FBI has a specific aviation unit that is flying around cities and frequently they are monitoring protesters instead of violent criminals. The Black Lives Matter protests in Baltimore, the FBI was flying surveillance over the protesters.

S – Now this has been cause for alarm because modern surveillance technologies are already being used by oppressive regimes to suppress government opposition. "Allahu akbar" (over and over) Ala'a – Since 2011, Bahrain has witnessed some of the largest protests in its history where there are thousands of protesters taking to the streets. Who are demanding more democratic reforms and a change in regime. S – Ala'a Shehabi is a Bahraini activist who found herself the target of government surveillance. A – In 2012 I was briefly arrested. Immediately after I was released, I received a string of 4 or 5 emails that were very suspicious to me. I suspected that this was a cyber attack so I immediately sent the suspicious emails to my colleague Morgan, at Citizen Lab, it actually turned out that this spyware was produced and operated by a British and German company called Finfisher. This is a company that specializes in producing hacking software.

It claims it sells it to government regimes. So that immediately fitted with my suspicion that this was the Bahraini regime. The spyware is capable of switching your microphone on, your camera, it is capable of logging every single thing that you type. There are a handful of key companies, in Europe, that are openly marketing, promoting and selling these tools in Arms Exhibitions. In European capitals. They are not being used in the name of tackling terrorism. They are being used to keep these regimes in place and in power. S – Now to see exactly what type of information a hacked phone can yield, we contacted the same hacker who uncovered the Bahraini scandal and asked him to hack one of our own reporters. Using the same type of software that targeted Ala'a Shehabi. We were able to completely commandeer Bens phone and he never knew it.

So Ben was in Pakistan doing a shoot on Polio. So you hacked his phone and you figured out who he called Morgan – Right and so I mean what we've got here is I can see who he is calling and when he called them and how long the calls were. We can actually record his calls, lets have a listen to them. M – This will also keep a list of Bens web browsing history. And so for instance you can see here he is google searching for BBC. You can see news articles that he is writing. Checking his twitter. It's sort of like reading someones mind. Because you can sort of see what they're thinking while they're on the internet. So we've been location tracking Ben. You can even get it to animate and so it will show where Ben is at various sort of times.

You can see him travelling around the city there and you can tell exactly where he is. Which is obviously you know in terms of keeping on someone a highly desirable thing. Think about anything that the phone can do. Right, like once you've actually installed this malicious software on the phone, then it's simply a matter of activating the phones capabilities. So I mean the phone has a camera right? Well now we can turn on the camera. S – What are these ambient recordings? M – Ya so the ambient recording is kind of the invisible microphone, the real sort of spy stuff. S – So he's interviewing a Gitmo detainee – a former Gitmo detainee – So I guess when you talk about protecting journalists, protecting your source is a big issue. M – Can you be said to be practicing journalism in a traditional sense if you can't guarantee source protection? You may be sort of actively endangering their livelihood, welfare and life.

S – Now with software like this and the other more commercially available software it seems like technology allows… almost anyone to spy on almost anyone M – We live in a golden age of convenience enabled by technology. So that means that you and I can be on other sides of the planet and we can have a conversation in real time for no money. Technology has enabled convenience of communication but also convenience of surveillance. S – Now this so called golden age of technology has essentially made it possible for anyone to spy on anyone else It begs the question – Can people, for example journalists, ever go dark? Is that even possible now with these new advancements? How do we go black? E – Well so going black is a pretty big ask. For me for example, I really know what I'm doing. S – Ya. E – But if the NSA wants to pop my box. You know they're totally going to do it.

But if you know you're actively under threat, if you know your phone has been hacked, these are ways that you can ensure that your phone works for you rather than working for somebody else. You might have bought the phone but whoever hacked it they are the one who owns it. S – That's because third parties can actually turn on your phones microphones and cameras without you knowing it. E – Any device that is on here you can operate independently. S – So it's true you can get into the phone and turn the camera on? E – Ya, absolutely. So you would turn this guy on and you'll just heat that guy until the solders molten. Because I'm going to be detaching the rhythm cables… that are connecting the camera…

As a surface mount device you'll be able to just pull it off like that. S – So this is the camera? What's that? E – This is the other camera. You got 2 cameras in your phone, you got your front facing camera, for sort of the selfies. And you got your rear facing camera, that's it. I think this one has a multi microphone array which is going to be this guy this guy and this guy. S – But if you take out the microphones then how do you use it as a phone? E – You would add your own external microphone. For example the iPod type earbuds that have the mic integrated on the lanyard. S – Is there a way you can tell if your phone has been hacked? E – Perhaps the most terrifying thing is, if your phone had been hacked you would never know. S – And as VICE news reporter Jason Leopold found surveillance has become so ubiquitious that even the government agencies responsible for policing it are not secure. You got a FOIA request recently in the mail that is causing quite a stir.

J – The way that this all surfaced, Dianne Feinstein, she made this extraordinary floor speech. S – As the head of the senate intelligence committee Feinstein delivered some shocking allegations. Senator Feinstein – On 2 occasions CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents. J – She said that the CIA had hacked into Senate computers while these staffers who worked for her were writing a report about the CIA's torture program. John Brennan, the director of the CIA said that is proposterous. Our only way to look deeper into it was to file a Freedom of information act request. So these documents absolutely backed up everything that Dianne Feinstein said. What's most interesting though, what I would call a smoking gun, John Brennan wrote a letter and he said that the CIA staff had improperly accessed your computers.

But John Brennan never sent this letter to Dianne Feinstein. They said that this letter was mistakenly turned over to us. It was an accident and it actually should not have been released to us and they asked us not to, uh, post it. S – Because it's embarrassing? J – Completely embarrassing for them. And we declined that request because there was no National security concerns in this letter. This is simply something that John Brennan did not want the public to see after making after making all of these statements about what the CIA did not do. S – We now know that the CIA officers were in fact spying on the committee charged with keeping them in line. So we spoke to one of those committee members Senator Ron Wyden about the letter than Brennan never meant to send. Senator Ron Wyden – This will be the first time I've ever said this publicly. My sense is there were clearly people at the CIA who understood that what Mister Brennan had done was flat out wrong.

And they drafted an apology letter. And yet, Mr Brennan was just unwilling to publicly acknowledge wrongdoing. This is basically re-writing the law. We are the agency that is required by law to conduct vigorous oversight over the CIA. We can't do vigorous oversight over the agency if the agency we're supposed to be overseeing is in fact secretly searching our files. S – Now Senator Wyden has become a leader in attempting to reign in our intelligence community. W – Director Clapper, I want to ask you… E – Senator Ron Wyden said "is the NSA collecting any kind of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" And James Clapper sort of scratched his head James Clapper – No sir. E – And he said no.

.. Senator Wyden – It does not? E – …they do not Clapper – Not wittingly. E – The most senior intelligence official in the United States of America raised his hand and swore an oath to tell the truth to congress. And he lied on camera. He wasn't charged, despite the fact that is a felony; he didn't even lose his job, he's still doing the same thing today. Within a few months he admitted that he had lied. He said his answer was too cute by half and the least untruthful statement that he felt he could have made at the time. W – My view is that if you're going to protect the American people you've got to embed those protections into law. And we of course have been very concerned about with what I call "Secret Law" S – And at the heart of that secret law is FISA the foreign intelligence surveillance act. Which authorised secret courts to greenlight domestic spying programs W – The government persuaded the court to say it was okay to collect metadata.

When you read the fundamental law you didn't hear anything about metadata and collecting millions of records on law abiding people. That was all done in secret. And in fact I went to the floor of the senate and I warned that when the American people found out how that law had been secretly interpreted they would be very angry. And that in fact was the case. S – Now public anger hasn't been enough to end many of these programs. But increasingly the question isn't whether or not they can be justified under law but whether they're actually effective in the first place. Recently there were attacks in Paris. What happens when you have a terrorist attack like that- Within security agencies, the NSA for example? E – I was working at the NSA during the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. And as it was playing on the news myself and colleagues were in the cafeteria and we turned to each other and said… I'll bet you anything… We already knew about these guys in the databases.

And in Paris, I'm certain that the same conversation happened. This is really the legacy of mass surveillance. It's the fact that when you are watching everyone you know who these individuals are, they're in the banks, you had the information you needed to stop, to prevent even the worst atrocities. But the problem is when you cast the net too wide, when you're collecting everything, you understand nothing. We know for a fact that it is not effective for stopping terrorist attacks and it never has been. The White House appointed 2 independent commissions in the wake of my disclosures in 2013 to review mass surveillance programs and go "Alright do these have value? Should they be changed? Should they be reformed?" They looked at the evidence, the classified evidence, and they found wow, despite the fact that this been going since 2001, it had never stopped a single terrorist attack in the United States.

And that's after monitoring the phone calls of everyone in the Country. S – So that's a huge point. So two independent commissions, started by the White House, said "Mass surveillance has not stopped a terrorist attack." E – And both of them found that these programs should be ended and then they came up with forty two different points for reform that they recommended should happen to restrict the use of these powers. The last time that I saw a review of this, the President only adopted three of the forty two points. S – Why? E – Because they would limit the exercise of executive power. This is something that you have to understand is not about this president… it's about…the Presidency. It's clear that the public opposes a majority of these policies. And yet politicians, because the word terrorism is involved, They can't justify being the one to stand and mount the vote, because they know there will be another terrorist attack.

S – Because if they say "No we're not doing this" and then there is a terrorist attack, they get painted with that brush. E – They know they'll be blamed by their political opponents and they're right. Of course their political opponents will do this it's the easiest thing in the world to do. And unfortunately it's quite effective. Because we live in a time where the politics of fear are the most persuasive thing on the table. S – Now while the debate over surveillance continues to rage here in the US, Edward Snowden remains a fugitive for his revelations about the NSA. And he had a cautionary statement about what's at stake. When the world was first introduced to you, you made a statement about turnkey tyranny… What did you mean by that? E – It means that even if you trust the government today what happens when it changes? In our democracy we're never more than 8 years away from a total change of government.

Suddenly, everybody is vulnerable to this individual and the systems are already in place. What happens tomorrow, in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years, when eventually we get an individual who says "You know what? Lets flip that switch… and use the absolute full extent of our technical capabilities to ensure the political stability of this new administration." When we think about the future and where we go from here the question is are we going to change? And enter sort of a quantified world where everywhere you've been, everyone you talk to, it's indexed it's analyzed, it's stored and it's used. Maybe against you. Cop – Within our technologies here we have our license plate reader system, which we can capture dozens of license plates in a matter of a second. E – Or will we recognize the danger of that and embrace the fact that people should have space to make mistakes, without judgement, to have sort of the unconsidered thought or conversation with your friend.

But if that was recorded in a database Where you know, you say "I think Donald Trump should be kicked off a cliff" And Donald Trump becomes President someday, and then everybody who said that ends up getting thrown off a cliff. That's a very dangerous world. And I think this really is… the question that… our political structures… are not yet comfortable even discussing. But whether they like it or not, it's a world that is coming and we're going to have to confront. .